Being trolled by Twentieth Century Fox

"You're tearing my textbook apart! Oh hai copyright trolls."

“You’re tearing my textbook apart! Oh hai copyright trolls.”

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you might remember some posts a while back about creating a digital textbook for my Film classes. I made one, it was beautiful, but it (maybe, possibly, kinda, sorta) ran afoul of copyright and intellectual property law. So I contacted every film studio to ask for help. Save for one studio and Charlie Chaplin’s estate, they responded as follows:

  • Hahahahahahahaha no. No. NO. Hahahaha.
  • Hmm. No. No, no, no, no. Nope. Well, actua– no, still no.
  • Who are you? Leave us alone.
  • Use whatever you like! $5000 per second of footage. You said you’re a school teacher, right? So you guys have plenty of dough.

So I took everything cool out of my book. I didn’t even take the one cool studio up on their offer for fear that some trademark goon would be patrolling the iBookstore looking for my one grainy still of Spider Man. It still kills me. I had this one section with side by side comparisons of the Odessa Steps sequence in the Battleship Potemkin and Psycho’s shower scene, and this other– sorry. No sense crying over spilled milk.

I had moved on from the whole affair when I got an email from an employee of Twentieth Century Fox who shall remain nameless, since I’m not sure if they have exclusive rights to print and use her name. Might get sued.

I was going to publish my entire exchange with the copyright trolls at Twentieth Century Fox, but then I realized that they would probably send studio agents crashing through our office windows as DMCA takedown notices rained down from the sky. So instead, let me post an opinion piece:

Don’t be such jerks.

I wrote you specifically because I am trying to clear every sample (so to speak) in my digital film textbook. I wrote you to ask about establishing protocols that would allow educators to license material for limited periods at little or no cost. I wrote you because I thought you might be interested in making the lives of thousands of educators better, and making the resources we create for students more engaging. And in the process expose tens of thousands of students in my iTunes U film course (or just the hundreds who pass through my class) to your amazing library of genre- and era-defining films.

I thought you might be interested in providing entree into the rich worlds of film analysis and production, especially since your studio is behind classics like The Sound of Music, The French Connection, FIght Club, Alien, and hundreds more, many of which my students will be studying. My students will also be learning how to promote a film; I can’t imagine what harm would come if they were allowed to study a press kit from a major studio. Can you?

Please don't arrest me.

They see me trollin’ teachers…I’m tryin’ ta catch them when they writin’ dirty…”

So maybe you’re a reader thinking, “These places exist to make money. Why would they care about education? Why do they have to help you? You’re the jerk!” I have two responses:

  1. Maybe, but I’m a righteously angry jerk now.
  2. Fox like most studios has an entire division devoted to licensing clips. Offering a simple short-term license for education professionals would be relatively simple (and in fact one studio made this offer; more on them in a subsequent post). Either way, there’s no need to send me a vaguely threatening form letter as a follow-up to the $5000 per unit offer (or whatever it was).

So there ends the dream. If you think you have special rights as a teacher, you’re mostly wrong. Last time I wrote an entry like this, someone popped up in the comments to say, “You’re suffering from copyright confusion! We do have rights!” The next day, Edublogs’ 1.45 million teacher blogs were taken offline due to ONE SINGLE DMCA NOTICE. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect object lesson.

This is just another reminder that new laws and regulations continue to chip away at the rights we’ve always assumed we had as teachers. The right to use outside sources in our instructional material, the right to distribute course packs and teacher-created resources, and the right to expose our students to the world beyond the classroom through mediated and unmediated activities are being taken away from us in the interest of enormous, rich corporations protecting assets that are in no way threatened by educational use.


Retiring the Road Show

Snake oil labelWhen you speak at enough conferences, you become extremely wary of repeating yourself. The first time you give a presentation, the material feels fresh and invigorating; by the tenth time, you feel like a guy trying to sell cough medicine. It becomes a spiel. So last year, I figured I could keep things fresher by developing a consistent aesthetic and slidedeck masters, then changing the content for every speech. It worked out pretty well, but even then I found myself bored with the look after two or three speeches. And as I began presenting at online conferences and national events, I realized that I was dealing with the stand-up comedian’s conundrum: the bigger the audience and the better the reaction, the more likely it is that you’ll never be able to use that material again. So when my picture of hipsters was followed by a picture of Vinny Barbarino as a means of explaining where I’m located in Brooklyn got a big laugh at EdmodoCon 2012, that was pretty much it: the joke was repeated on Twitter, the people attending EdmodoCon are likely to attend other conferences, and I was out two pretty good slides.  By my third presentation of the school year (back in November), I felt like the whole thing needed some tweaking. And I also realized that I’m not a comedian and don’t even need to have funny asides ready, which made the entire presentation process a lot easier.

Then I started thinking about copyright law. I can’t just use any pictures I find on the internet if I plan on sharing these slideshows; in fact, I shouldn’t even be showing students’ faces without a release. Come to think of it, that snippet of MGMT’s “Kids” playing under the video segment isn’t really “mine” to use. So I recorded some original music for accompaniment, took my own photos, learned some Photoshop and got to blurring faces, and banned Google from my presentation-making workflow. I would adapt the content to suit my resources, rather than the other way around.

Finally, I took a look at my actual slides and I thought three things: words, words, words. Some slides had five statistics and a citation, or a picture next to a text box of equal size with the title bold and heavy stretching across the top of the whole mess. What on earth did I want the viewer to focus on? The eye is drawn to the picture, but the title has the most relative weight, meaning the text box is probably going to be ignored completely. So after my fourth presentation, I scrapped some of the deck and went back to square 1 (well, maybe square 2 or 3). By the end of January, I had a solid if occasionally bland presentation (I had a Homer Simpson joke and image in my presentation despite the fact that I neither watch The Simpsons nor know anything about Homer beyond that he says “D’oh!”. The recollection still causes me great pain) that I was changing up on a monthly basis. Now, the entire deck, masters and all, is being relegated to secondary storage (if I were in the Mafia, “sent to Dropbox” would be my go-to murder euphemism; if I send something there, it’s because I truly don’t need it anymore, and it ain’t coming back) as I shift to creating an entirely new presentation for every speech this year.

If you’re an active speaker, I would love you to share presentation tips with me. What works for you? What have been some of your greatest speaking triumphs? Feel free to also include disasters. If you do, I’ll share my story of being attacked by librarians.

ADE 2013: Mind blown.

Apple Distinguished Educators logo

I don’t high five. Ironically, unironically, for charity, for fun…it’s just not something I enjoy doing. So when I ran up the staircase to the second floor of the AT&T Conference Center into human walls of outstretched hands, I didn’t know what to do. As I was sort of thrust along this path, I found my arms being pulled up and, next thing I knew, I was high fiving. Good, hard high fives. High fives with some muscle behind them. I was assimilating. There’s nothing less convincing than a fanboy denying his passion.

I don’t want to go into great detail about the 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator Institute for a few reasons: first and foremost, I don’t want to spoil any of the experience for the class of 2015, 2017, or beyond, and I don’t know how much is repeated from Institute to Institute. Secondly, Apple’s representatives asked us to keep quite a bit of what we saw and heard to ourselves for competitive reasons. Finally, telling you that I was able to speak one-on-one with FCPX’s product manager, the iBooks Author team, and members of the Apple design team sounds nice, but the experiences don’t translate well. It wasn’t about access or approval or even feeling a part of what Apple does; it was about solving problems, making things better, and becoming a part of the machinery that improves student experiences, especially as they relate to technology.


I will provide a general overview: it’s like Disney World for teacher-nerds. The days are packed with workshops and learning activities while the evenings tended to be driven by social and collective experiences. Every single workshop was valuable for me. I dove deep into FCPX, mastered iTunes U and iBooks Author, learned some of the magic behind iAd Producer, studied photography under Bill Frakes’ and Laura Heald’s tutelage, and improved my Keynote, GarageBand, iMovie, and Photoshop skills. The group activities were generally fun and occasionally illuminating, but I won’t be spoiling any surprises here.


So because I’m not going to write about projects, workshops, or special events (though I can reveal that I tried to start a rumor that Coldplay was going to play a set for us on the last night, but no one bit…ADEs are smart), I’m going to discuss people. I’ve never met more impressive people in one place. I can’t even begin to list the brilliant people I met, so…well, I guess I could. Why can’t I list some of the brilliant people I met?


@ajmanx, @jcorripo – Tony and John delivered two incredible FCPX workshops. I accidentally found myself in the beginner session, but maybe not that surprisingly, I was still able to pick a few things up. So of course I signed up for session 2, which was equally edifying.


@kajkibak – First kid I met at summer camp. Arriving at the Institute is a little intimidating (how intimidating? I went and bought cigarettes so I would have a reason to go outside), since a lot of people know each other from earlier institutes or other events. I didn’t know anyone. And I hate making introductions with all my heart and soul, so once I started talking to Kaj, I was more or less finished for the day. I don’t think we saw each other again until the last night, which made it even more like the summer camp experience.


@reshanrichards – The man behind @explainevrything also plays bass, studies math, and gives thoughtful, funny presentations. He’s the equivalent of a jock in the land of ADEs, captain of the digital football team, but also one of the nicest people I encountered during the week.


@digitalroberto – Robert was in my PLN and provided me with project direction when I had none. My whole PLN was great: @mrhooker, @darthmacgoogle, @principaljrich, and @ipoddess were all smart, thoughtful, and incredibly helpful.


@misterkling – We met late into the trip, but that didn’t stop us from getting out of the compound with Carl Hooker and others. Kris was the only person who seemed to have no trouble following every instruction in the Advanced Keynote seminar, which impressed me to no end.


@shoewee – John and I are basically trying to carve out the same career in different parts of the country, so our time talking was really helpful for me. He also shared great wisdom with me: get the individual room upgrade. #nexttime


@stacecarter – Calm, funny, and patient. A good influence on us and always a pleasure to talk to.


@cordym – I’m not an energy guy, and there are times when I tense up in the face of high energy people. But Michelle was high energy in the best possible way: she had a good word for everyone, a great story of how she’s working through the challenges in her deployment, and a convivial approach to everything we did.


Other ADEs you should follow/talk to this year: @aquiamigo, @rebeccawildman, @shaylamsb, @dwmalone, @weberswords, @techchef4u, @whittmister, @_luisfperez, and anyone hashtagging #ADE2013, really.


Last word: they gave us all iPhone 8s, which won’t be released to the general public until 2015. They run iOS 9 (though you can also dual-boot into Android Fried Twinkie Burger). But I shouldn’t even be telling you that.